The Perfect Enemy | Don Keelan: Where are all the young men and women? - vtdigger.org
June 30, 2022

Don Keelan: Where are all the young men and women? – vtdigger.org

Don Keelan: Where are all the young men and women?  vtdigger.org

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This commentary is by Don Keelan of Arlington, a retired certified public accountant.

Wonder why it is so difficult to find young workers in Vermont? Please stick with me and follow what might be the major reasons for the shortage of workers. 

In the April 26 Bennington Banner, I noted the following four stories of residents charged with an alleged crime: Joseph H., stealing tables; Austin M., burglary and obstructing justice; Joshua M., attempted murder; and Jessie L., stealing. The ages of the four were 30, 32, 43 and 49, respectively. 

This is crime data for one week, emanating from a small town in a small county in Vermont. I can only imagine what a similar week’s reported crime statistics might be from the larger counties, such as Rutland, Chittenden and Windsor. 

Notice the age range of those arrested, all of working age. I cannot help but wonder how many young people might also be under the supervision of Vermont’s criminal justice system sector and not available for gainful employment? 

As of April 30, 2022, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections, the department has the following under its care: 

  • Incarceration, including 127 in Mississippi: 1,310 
  • On furlough: 355
  • On probation: 2,669 
  • On parole: 808 
  • Work crew: 378 
  • From outside the state: 126 
  • Total being supervised: 5,645

(I acknowledge there may be redundancy in listing the numbers by category.) 

Of those incarcerated, 1,203 are under 60 years of age, and one-third are between 30 and 39. 

Of course, the total in Department of Corrections care is insignificant compared to the state’s approximate 643,000 population, but as a percentage of the state’s workforce, it is a sizable amount. 

We should include the number of individuals in recovery from addiction, drugs and alcohol. According to the most recent Vermont Recovery and the Vermont Department of Health statistics, the number is close to 7,000. This figure does not include the number of Vermonters waiting to get into recovery, an estimate of 7,000. Nor does the total number include those who have not arrived at the point of seeking help for their addiction. This figure is unknown but could be significant. Of course, some in recovery are also in the workforce. 

Tragically, another statistic is an integral part of the question of where the young people are: 715 Vermonters have died in the past five years from fentanyl, opioid and heroin overdose incidents. 

In Vermont, we have many young people, perhaps upward of 20,000 or more, who are disengaged from a workforce that reportedly has over 26,000 open positions. Regrettably, the situation is only becoming more dire.

How do we reverse the statistics? Some say it all begins at home and in children’s upbringing. Others firmly believe it is a lack of training from what was once delegated to schools. 

Maybe there is something to be said about how parents and teachers have been overwhelmed by discipline issues. Let’s not forget what has been lost over the last two and half years from the Covid-19 pandemic. Please don’t ignore the exponential availability of illegal, deadly drugs and how this has overwhelmed our adolescent/young adult mental health system. 

We need to recognize that the workforce is losing dozens of young people each week. We wonder where our young people are; too many are in recovery or tied up in the criminal justice system.

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